Man exonerated in Seminole County double murder after 10 years on death row

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin 'nearly executed for a crime he didn't commit'

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin after his exoneration hearing on Monday, Nov. 5. (Photo: Innocence Project/Phelan Ebanhack/AP)

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – All charges have been dropped against a man who spent more than 14 years in jail and a decade on Florida's death row for the 2004 murders of his Altamonte Springs neighbors, according to State Attorney Phil Archer.

Clemente Aguirre-Jarquin was arrested at 24 years old and received the death penalty in 2006 for the stabbing deaths of his neighbors, Cheryl Williams and her mother, Carol Bareis.

Aguirre, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, found their bodies, but didn't report it in fear of being deported, he told authorities. The victims had been stabbed dozens of times. While checking for a pulse, Aguirre's attorneys said he got their blood on his clothing.

The Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people, took on Aguirre’s case in 2011.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned Aguirre’s conviction and death sentence based on new evidence that included DNA testing of multiple pieces of crime scene evidence that  implicated another suspect: the victims’ daughter and granddaughter, Samantha Williams. Williams later confessed that she committed the murders to numerous friends and acquaintances who had no connection to Aguirre, according to the Innocence Project.

Archer planned to seek the death penalty again in a re-trial, but Aguirre's lawyers presented the State Attorney's Office with additional evidence "undermining Williams’ alibi and further implicating her emerged in recent pretrial proceedings," according to a news release.

On Monday, the State Attorney's Office announced it was dropping the prosecution of Aguirre, now 38. His second trial was set to begin this week.

"While the State has serious concerns about the credibility of Mr. Aguirre-Jarquin's statement of facts regarding his participation in this incident, the State does not believe further incarceration of Mr. Aguirre-Jarquin is warranted or justified at this time," a spokesperson for the State Attorney's Office said. "We appreciate the efforts of his attorney's in presenting this new evidence."

Williams has not been charged in the deaths of her mother and grandmother.

A spokesperson for the state attorney's office said prosecutors "will be meeting with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office over the coming weeks to review the evidence and determine if there are any investigative avenues that can be pursued, or any further action to be taken in this case."

Aguirre's exoneration hearing Monday in Seminole County was attended by more than a dozen lawyers who worked on his case over the last decade, along with his two sisters and friends.

After the hearing Aguirre thanked his legal team.

“I have only forgiveness in my heart for those who did wrong to me," Aguirre said.

“Mr. Aguirre was nearly executed for a crime he didn’t commit,” one of Aguirre’s lead trial attorneys, Joshua Dubin, said. “While we are overjoyed that his ordeal is finally over, the case of Clemente Aguirre should serve as a chilling cautionary tale about how dangerous it is when there is a rush to judgment in a capital case."

After the hearing, Aguirre was transferred to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility where his attorneys worked to get him released, said Julia Lucivero, a spokeswoman for the Innocence Project.

Aguirre was released from all custody by 5 p.m. and walked free for the first time in almost 15 years.